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AGF Festival Carbon Footprint report challenges festival carbon impact assumptions

A Greener Future (formerly A Greener Festival) has released new insight into festival carbon footprints.

Key findings revealed audience travel contributed on average to 41 per cent of the carbon footprint when a more complete account of Scope 3 emissions is included. When including wider travel such as production, traders, and artists, travel and transport represents closer to 58 per cent, with food and drink responsible for an average 34 per cent of a festival’s carbon footprint.

Audience travel is commonly stated as 80 per cent or more of a festival’s carbon footprint. However, most studies omit impacts of food and drink, materials purchased, or trader travel. In some cases, production and artist travel are also missing from the picture.

The AGF Festival Carbon Footprint report reveals that when accounting for more complete emissions sources the breakdown is more nuanced, with many emissions generated as a result of production and planning decisions, rather than through audience travel choices alone.

Claire O’Neill, CEO of AGF, commented: “We love festivals, their contribution to culture, and their potential to show alternative ways of living. It’s important to have a fuller picture to understand their carbon footprints. Focus for event sustainability is often on waste, cups, and audience travel. Whilst clearly important, this is a narrow view missing broader impacts. This can delay important decisions at the planning and design stage, such as moving away from animal and other high impact food and drinks.”

The report’s authors note that broad carbon footprint averages, whilst popular, should be treated with caution as disparity between the variety of festivals is significant. For instance, audience travel emissions ranged from around 20 per cent to 75 per cent of a festival’s footprint, depending on scale, location, and nature of the event. As more events collect this type of information, it will become more accurate and will help identify further improvements.

The report highlights that carbon footprints do not provide insight into other impacts such as light or noise pollution, direct habitat disturbance, or pollution on site, which require biodiversity and environmental impact assessments. It also shows potential for time spent at a festival to create fewer emissions than time spent at home, with a comparison of emissions per person at festivals against average national emissions per resident, which is an area for further research.

For the next phase of this study AGF invites interested industry groups, festivals and sustainability organisations to collaborate with shared information, for a clearer picture for the festival and events sector as a whole.

Summary of key findings:

  • Audience travel represents the largest source of emissions, contributing to 41 per cent of the average festival footprint.
  • Wider travel including artists, production, and traders represents on average 58 per cent of emissions.
  • Average emissions per person per day at a festival were found to be 11 kg CO2e.
  • Food and drink represent more than one third (34 per cent) of average festival emissions. This is significantly reduced at events who have adopted plant-based policies.
  • Waste disposal, water use, and sewage treatment account for only four per cent of average footprint. However, these create other impacts on biodiversity, local ecosystems, and resource consumption which carbon analysis alone can overlook.
  • Energy use represented nearly 1.5 per cent of average footprint, due to high adoption of biodiesel HVO and electrification by events analysed. Average energy emissions more than triple when conventional diesel is used.
  • The analysis is based on festivals and events already taking significant sustainable actions, and therefore may be representative of best practice events.